Marissa Mayer has been clear about her dissatisfaction with Yahoo’s Microsoft search partnership in the past — saying at last year’s Goldman Sachs technology conference that the partnership needed to produce better financial results, and the companies needed to stop just trading market share.
However, at the same conference yesterday, the Yahoo CEO expressed a willingness, at least, to work with new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Asked about the changing of the guard in Redmond, she said, “We like the Microsoft relationship. It’s worked well for us. We’re eager to start this new era with Microsoft.”
Those were her first public comments on the partnership since Microsoft announced its new CEO last week.
It was a much different message than the one delivered by Yahoo in a court case last year, seeking to delay the transition to Microsoft’s Bing Ads technology in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In her comments in the case, Mayer questioned whether a new Microsoft CEO would have the same commitment to the deal as outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer.
People inside Microsoft privately saw that as an excuse that reflected Mayer’s general discontent with the deal. But Nadella ran the Bing engineering team during one of his past Microsoft assignments, and he’s unlikely to try to unravel the Yahoo deal.
So if Yahoo wants to exit the agreement, it looks like Mayer will need to wait until that can be done under the existing terms of their agreement, which is possible if the partnership doesn’t meet targets over time.
Microsoft and Yahoo announced their search alliance in 2009, joining forces in an effort to compete more effectively against Google. Ballmer was a champion of the deal, which was struck with then-Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, following Microsoft’s unsuccessful bid to acquire Yahoo.
Microsoft provides the underlying search technology for Yahoo and powers the search-related advertising platform. So far, the results haven’t met expectations, with Microsoft Bing adding market share in the U.S. as Yahoo steadily declines, and Google remains solidly on top. After coming on board, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reportedly talked extensively with Ballmer about finding ways to improve the partnership.
Yahoo has maintained its own large search technology team, and is pressing forward with its own work on front-end search functionality, reportedly striking a deal with Yelp to partner on local search, to differentiate its results from Google and Bing.
Mayer, the former Google executive, didn’t directly answer one question posed to her at yesterday’s conference — what the Microsoft search partnership is allowing Yahoo to do that it couldn’t do otherwise. But she talked about Yahoo’s ongoing search investments, saying that Yahoo is “long on search.”
She added, “Search is curiosity. When will innovation on curiosity be done? It will never be done.”